The Contax TVS Digital

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In its time, Contax/Yashica made some very fine film cameras and lenses which continued after its acquisition by Kyocera. The company struggled for a few years during the early days of digital but were making some interesting cameras such as the Contax TVS Digital. Unfortunately, Kyocera halted production of all Contax cameras in 2005.

THE CONTAX TVS DIGITAL

The Contax TVS Digital is a 5 megapixel point and shoot digital camera introduced by Kyocera of Japan in 2002.

The camera uses a 1/1.8″ CCD sensor and features a Carl Zeiss (35mm equivalent) 35-105mmm f/2.8-4.8 lens. The camera has a shutter speed range of 8 seconds to 1/2000 seconds and an ISO range of 80 to 400.

Close focus is around 2 ft and goes to infinity. Macro range is around 5.9 inches. The camera has an optical viewfinder that has about 85 percent coverage and a tiny 1.6″ LCD for composition and playback.

The camera has a built in flash and runs on a proprietary lithium ion battery that must be charged in camera via AC adapter.

The camera uses standard SD cards up to 2gb. That was a lot back then! And in all honesty, it’s more than enough for a 5mp camera that shoots jpegs. There is no RAW option.

IMPRESSIONS

Let me be blunt…I was never interested in the Contax TVS Digital.

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Why? Well, early on I saw that the specs were very similar to the Kyocera Finecam S5 and I picked up that camera in 2008 or 2009 for $10 dollars.

Considering that the TVS Digital was selling for around $400 or so at that time, I kept it out of my head. I said to myself…why would anyone pay $400 when you can get (possibly) the same camera for $10?!

Flash forward to 2016. Saw a TVS Digital for under $100. I said…DEAL!! 🙂

Right off the bat, it must be said that the chances are unlikely that many people are looking for, let alone thinking of the Contax TVS Digital in 2017. But you my friends, you are NOT the masses, that’s why you’re reading Camera Legend! You come here for those old, decrepit and forgotten cameras 🙂

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“You Are Special” 2017. Contax TVS Digital. The TVS Digital’s automatic flash can be overpowering at times, but it still manages to produce flash images with pleasing color. Just like Baby Zay (and Barney), I would say that if you are seeking a Contax TVS Digital in 2017, then you my friend, you are special 🙂

Ok, so I’ve had a little time with it and I’m sharing my opinion with you. First, the Titanium Black version is beautiful. It feels well built, solid, much like the TVS film camera it emulates but perhaps lighter than the film version.

IN USE

The controls are well laid out. Sometimes, scrolling through the ancient 2002 menu system can be a little confusing but you get used to it.

The optical viewfinder is small and dinky and I almost never use it. The 1.6 inch old school LCD is not much better, but I use it as it’s better than nothing.

Though the camera gives you an in focus indication, it’s hard to tell from either the optical viewfinder or the LCD that the camera is truly in focus. However, for a camera with the typical tiny sensor you really needn’t worry because in most situations, you’ll have ample depth of field for everything to be sharp. Only when in macro range or doing close-ups do I worry but more often than not the TVS Digital gets sharp focus.

The autofocus is decent, but slow. Considering it’s from 2002, we’ll forgive it! Writing to the sd card as well as playback are also slow.

IMAGE QUALITY

In all honesty, I did not have high expectations of this camera. In my opinion, the original Contax TVS film camera, while beautiful, had a pretty average lens and was clunky to operate. The TVS Digital is almost a mirror image of its film cousin in image quality, perhaps a bit better.

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“Shadow Cloud Rider” 2016. Contax TVS Digital.

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“Shadow Cloud Rider Revealed” 2016. Contax TVS Digital. The built in flash of the TVS Digital fires by default (can be turned off) and provided nice fill flash for this shot.

The lens is sharp enough, but doesn’t strike me as one of those stellar, super-sharp lenses. It is not, but it’s good enough for most purposes.

“Bill Haley And His Comets” 2017. Contax TVS Digital. This is a crop from the TVS Digital at its widest setting. Barrel distortion can be seen, but the colors are very good especially for a camera from 2002!

Compared to the $10 Finecam S5 with similar specs, the images look as sharp but perhaps more contrasty. I’m not sure if it’s really the T* coatings doing their thing or if it’s just my imagination. Perhaps a more rigorous comparison should be done.

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“Pot” 2017. Contax TVS Digital. I’m not referring to the plants, I’m referring to the “thing” the plants are in, it looks like an ancient pot to me! The TVS Digital shows nice colors and crisp details here.

Anyway, the images are sharp with nice color and contrast. The colors lean a bit towards cool rather than warm. Don’t fool yourself, this camera is not going to do better than an equivalent modern day point and shoot. The 5mp resolution is limiting. The colors can go wonky at times. It’s sharp, but not the sharpest lens I’ve ever seen. Yet, when taken on the whole, I like the pics I get from this camera!

There’s a certain kind of quality to it. I’m not going to say “film-like” or “filmic” but it’s something similar and very pleasant to my eyes. Actually, yes, when viewing some of my photos at 100 percent, the “grain” did seem reminiscent of color film grain. It kind of makes up for the lack of details or low resolution.

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“Sun” 2017. Contax TVS Digital.

The nifty macro mode is very good. In once instance, it did better than a Sigma DP2 Quattro I was testing. No, not in sharpness or resolution but in the fact that the TVS Digital got several sharp shots where the DP2 Quattro misfocused on the same shots, even though it gave me an in focus indication. That was a good example to me of getting the shot vs not getting the shot. What would you take, a 29mp blurry shot? Or a 5mp sharp, in-focus shot? 🙂

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“All Mine” 2017. Contax TVS Digital. Macro mode. The TVS Digital has a very useful macro mode that works well in capturing shots such as this. This large butterfly seems to be claiming all this “food” for itself and no one else 🙂

With a limiting top ISO speed of 400, the TVS Digital is not a camera one would likely use for low light shots. However, I found one pleasant surprise; when shooting in low light with no flash, the camera still produces surprisingly good color under these circumstances.

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“Empire State” 2017. Contax TVS Digital. The TVS Digital does surprisingly well for night shots such as this one at ISO 400.

Check out the photo below. It looks well lit, but in reality, the room was dark and only the hallway light lit the subjects. With these circumstances, many cameras, even modern ones will usually produce reddish or yellowish colors, but the TVS Digital produced colors so natural here it puts a lot of cameras to shame! This was shot handheld, but this leads me to believe the TVS Digital could do better than I thought in low light conditions, especially if a tripod is used. This fact that the whole picture did not turn into mush is a pleasant surprise!

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BOTTOM LINE

As one of the last cameras introduced by the now defunct Contax line of cameras from the Kyocera era, the Contax TVS Digital is seen these days as collectible and that it is, I suppose.

In use, the TVS Digital in many ways mimics the TVS film series. It carries very good optics into an all purpose point and shoot digital camera. Its performance can be good to very good, but not earth shattering. It’s a good basic point and shoot camera that happens to carry the prestigious Contax name.

Considering that the Contax brand of its era is gone, the TVS Digital is one of the few digital remnants that keeps the Camera Legend of Contax alive and as a Contax fan I would say that’s a good thing!

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

Unlike the Contax N Digital DSLR, the TVS Digital is almost always available on eBay. And also unlike the N Digital DSLR, prices have been trending downwards in the past few years, settling to around $175-300 with an average around $250. This indicates to me that even buyers know this is not a standout collectors item like the N Digital.

In my opinion, even at its current price, it’s is still too much for this camera. Again, for me, it all goes back to the Finecam S5, the Kyocera camera with similar specs. You can find this camera if you look for $10-30! But though they share similar specs, the S5 looks and feels a lot different from the TVS Digital. The TVS Digital is better in this respect.

If you are a Contax fan like me, and you don’t mind paying current prices, then I suppose it’s not an out of this world price to pay.

But buy carefully. As I mentioned many times before, Contax electronics are prone to failure. Make sure you buy from a place with a good return policy because if it breaks on you, there’s really no hope of repair.

If interested, try one of the links here and support Camera Legend at the same time. Your support will help me continue to bring you reviews on forgotten cameras such as the TVS Digital and many more film and digital classics of yore. Many thanks!!

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7/29/17: ***DEAL ALERT***

Our good friends at Adorama have some great deals this weekend on some hot new Rokinon lenses! For a very limited time (this weekend) you can save a bundle on these awesome Rokinon lenses.

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Photo Of The Day: “EyeZ”

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Always trying to improve my digital black and white images. Digital photography spawned from an attempt or desire to escape the giant shadow of film, but as they say “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” Lots of people genuinely miss the look of film, but not the work involved to shoot, process and develop it, thus since the early days of digital, people have been attemting to create “film-like” images on this modern platform.

I’ve shot film for a long time and I’ve come to accept that you just cannot duplicate film completely, it’s got its own special thing, but digital black and white can have its own charm as well. I’ve so far resisted the urge to use popular software such as Silver Efex Pro, instead I try to tune each pic to my taste by playing with the levels, curves, etc, in Photoshop. I’m not quite happy with my efforts on the whole, but I’ll keep trying.

One thing I can tell you that works well for me is to use old or older lenses on my digital cameras in this effort. I find it gives me a head start. This one was shot with the original Canon EOS-1Ds 11mp camera introduced in 2002 and reviewed on these pages. The lens used was a Contax 50mm f/1.4 MM  Zeiss Planar. If you like using “alt” lenses as I do, that’s cool and you know it’s incredibly fun! I’m going to try to do an article for you on this subject. And as I said, I’ll keep trying to find the best formula for filmic digital black & white, even if such a thing might not exist. If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun! Have a great day good peeps and get out them cameras 🙂

***DEAL ALERT***

From time to time, our media affiliates will send us deals they have going on and since I do not want to burden you good people with advertisement, I decide whether or not to tell you about it. And believe me, the majority of the time I choose not to plug it, much the chagrin of our media friends 🙂

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“Standing Strong” 2013. Fuji X-Pro 1, Canon 35mm f/1.8 ltm. I’ve used the Fuji X-Pro 1 for some time. It’s an outstanding camera with its native Fuji lenses, but is a pain to use with legacy manual lenses such as the Canon I used here. The Fuji X-T1 that I’m talking about in the article is a much better body for this purpose.

Just like you, I know no one likes it when you plug an ad or ask you to click a link, but you should know too writing and equipment reviews take a lot of time and cost money, most of which I spend on my own to give you the best info I can and I do this for free. No one ever sent me a piece of equipment to write about. But that’s ok, I love this thing, that’s why I do it and I can and will always remain objective.

If you buy anything through our links, I don’t get much, if at all, but every little bit adds to help this site grow. And it costs you nothing to do so. Especially if you’re planning to buy the stuff anyway, it’s a win-win.

Anyway, today we got some screaming deals!! Sometimes you get deals and sometimes you get duds. This is a real deal yes! Most of you will know that the Fuji X-T1 is an awesome and capable top end camera that produces amazing pics and it usually goes for $1299. For a limited time, you can now get it brand new for $799!! Ho! $500 off plus other savings through our partners. If you ever wanted to get the Fuji X-T1, this is it. Check out this and other Fuji Deals and if you do get one, drop back here and let me know how you liked it. I bet you’ll love it! Thank you very much, I appreciate your support.

Also a sale on the superb Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 HERE

And instant rebates on the hot new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

The Contax T2: The Greatest Point & Shoot Camera Of All Time?

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The Contax T2 is a high end autofocus point and shoot film camera released by Kyocera in 1990.

While many cameraphiles consider the T3 the “Ultimate” point and shoot film camera, the T2 has, over the years, developed such a cult following among camera fanatics that it might be considered THE greatest Contax camera of the Kyocera era. Is it really the greatest? 🙂

The T2 is one of the most popular point and shoot cameras of all time and there are many other reviews and testimonies better than mine. I’m just giving you my two cents on my experiences with this camera.

I have been a Contax lover since using the original Contax T back in the 1990s and have used all the cameras in the T series, including the T2, T3, TVS, TVSIII, and TiX APS film camera.

THE T2 CAMERA

As a camera the T2 features a Carl Zeiss 38mm f/2.8 T* lens, Program and aperture priority modes. Aperture range is f/2.8-f/16. Shutter speed range is 1 to 1/500th seconds in Program mode. ISO range is ISO 25 to 5000. The camera relies on one CR123A battery.

The camera is primarily an autofocus camera, but you can opt for manual focus if necessary.

One neat feature that I love on the T2 is the ability to change lens aperture via a ring around the lens mount.

The camera is rather large and long for a point and shoot, quite in line with its peers from the 1990s such as the Leica Minilux or Konica Hexar, which are all larger than most high end point and shoots of today, i.e., the Ricoh GR, Leica Q, or Sony RX100 series. The camera is not jeans pocketable, but perhaps coat pocketable depending on your coat 🙂

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The Contax T2 was one of my film companions overseas. While large, clunky and not small like today’s point and shoots, the T2 exudes that Contax charm and Zeiss power that still seduces camera lovers to this day. Please forgive this bad phone pic. It was late night and I was just giving the T2 some lovin’ 🙂

PERFORMANCE

As mentioned, the T2 is primarily an autofocus point and shoot. I have found its AF to be generally reliable in good light or when using flash, but less accurate in low or challenging light situations.

The center point AF seems to need something solid to lock on to and not just sharp edges, as many cameras do. Solid objects with good light helps.

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“Sister Samui” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400. On Koh Samui island, Thailand, I met a wonderful lady whose grace and elegance made me think of her as a “Thai Lauren Bacall.” I’m getting used to going to these places now, but it’s the people I meet that keep it interesting for me.

I have mentioned many times that I do not like using manual focus on similar cameras because it’s really electronic vs real manual focus and clunky to use. It’s more like a “guesstimate” system using the distance indicators vs physically manually focusing the lens which you cannot do on the T2 and most comparable point and shoot cameras. However with the T2, using its electronic manual focus is sometimes necessary.

When the AF is in its zone however, the 38mm f/2.8 produces excellent, sharp images with lots of contrast. The high contrast is what you have come to expect and love from Contax Zeiss lenses and it accentuates the appearance of sharpness.

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“Pak Nam Klai” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400 developed in D76. The Klai River in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand. Not as famous as the “River Kwai” but just as nice and it looks just the way it did when I visited as a child.

However, in very bright lighting situations, the high contrast can be problematic and it’s easy to get blown highlights with this camera. Thankfully, due to the high dynamic range of film, I can generally bring the levels down and recover detail with post processing.

The lens seems to be more in line with the original Contax T, which produced sharp images with a more classical look that I liked as opposed to the T3 which produced bitingly sharp pics with a more modern look. Many people prefer the T3 probably for that reason, but to me, the T and T2 produces images with more “character.” Hard to explain, but I suspect many of you will know what I mean.

Oddly enough, whenever I’ve used a 40mm f/2.8 lens on my film or full frame cameras, I’ve always found that focal length a little “boring” especially because it reminds me a lot of a 35mm f/2.8 lens which is a generic old school focal length that can be found very cheaply. Yet everyone including me has no complaints about this on the T2. Hmm, perhaps it’s the T2 “legend?” It’s like seeing five apples that look exactly the same, but you were told that one was special so you believe it and it tastes better than the rest 🙂

Keep in mind I’m not saying the T2 lens is just like any other 35-40mm lens. I’m just talking about the focal length and the f/2.8 aperture which I find boring. A 35mm f/2 or 40mm f/2 is preferable to me, even if it’s less than a stop faster. Your milage may vary. That said, I do think the lens on the T2 has that special something! I loved the original T which was my first T series camera and I suspect it’s the same lens.

The tiny original T was and is my favorite of all the T series due to the lens and the ability to achieve accurate focus using its true rangefinder system. It is manual focus only, but I found I had a higher rate of keepers with the T than with the T2 and its AF.

The bokeh on the 38mm f/2.8 Zeiss Sonnar can be a bit “nervous” or “busy” and in line with what I have seen and mentioned here about most Zeiss lenses that I have used. However, you can also get very nice bokeh out of it. To achieve this, you need to get in close on your subject and make sure the background is uncluttered.

The camera is not silent, but the AF and motor advance/rewind are quite quieter than, say a Ricoh GR1. In fact, if I weren’t spoiled by other cameras like the Konica Hexar, I would say the T2 is very quiet indeed.

BOTTOM LINE

The Contax T2 has achieved an enviable status among cameraphiles and camera collectors alike. Despite Kyocera/Contax being out of the camera business for quite a while already, these cameras are still actively being sought.

There’s a lot of love, respect, and perhaps even a bit of romanticism involved in the cult of Contax T2 lovers.

The T2 is not without its flaws however. It does not have the most accurate AF that I’ve ever used, but it is generally reliable in good light. The results can sometimes be inconsistent. When the camera (or the photographer!) does get it right, the results can be superb. The good will make up for the bad with this camera, and there IS a reason it has earned its reputation. The lens can be fantastic, but you got to earn your keeps with this camera.

The T2 is a camera that I have bought and sold, and then bought again. Usually I would say that means it’s a great camera, but one could argue that if you sold it in the first place then maybe there was something about it that was not so great? No, it could just be that I needed cash at the time 🙂

Anyway the T2 is a “Bad Ass” camera! I’m on my second one and I’m glad to have it, despite its AF issues. I’m holding on to this one as long as I can this time around. I still have a couple rolls of undeveloped T2 pics, but that will be for a later time. I just wanted to give something to you wonderful fellow camera addicts 🙂

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“Little Badass” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400 developed in D76. I was just taking some test shots when this cute little “badass” stopped me in my tracks 🙂

It’s been said that the T2 was beloved by famous fashion photographers like Terry Richardson and Juergen Teller, but I haven’t seen any pictures of these guys holding one. I know Terry used a Yashica T4 and have seen pics of Juergen with a Contax G2.

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“Double Trouble” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400 developed in D76. In Manila, Philippines, I met these two beauties who I called “Double Trouble” 🙂 This was shot with direct flash in dark conditions and I was surprised it came out! This is my salute to Terry Richardson and Juergen Teller who made the “point and shoot with flash” shots hip and fashionable in the 1990s.

However, I think the main point was that cameras such as the T2 (if not the T2 itself) were made famous by photographers like Terry and Juergen who took that once dreaded “point and shoot with flash” shot and turned it into something hip, cool, and fashionable. Of course, if they can turn a point and shoot photograph into art, it doesn’t mean I or just anyone can! However, with enough savings we mere mortals can all own (or someday own) the T2 🙂

The Contax T2 is one of the most beloved 35mm point and shoot cameras of all time and certainly a Camera Legend. Is it the greatest? Well, I wouldn’t call it that, based on its AF performance, but I will say it could certainly be considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest. However, if you’re a camera fanatic, you probably need to have one in your collection 🙂

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“Number One” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400 developed in D76. Not the greatest picture, perhaps one of my worse, but I decided to post it anyway to show that yes, you can use the T2 to take those lousy pictures point and shoot cameras used to be known for and besides that, Baby Zay thinks the T2 is “Numero Uno” 🙂

WHERE TO BUY?

If seeking one of these gems, I hate to tell you that prices seem to have gone up on these babies, even from just a couple of years ago. Prices are trending at $500 and up for the camera in EX and EX+ condition on eBay.

The silver T2 is the most common and therefore quite often the cheapest ones you’ll find. There’s also black, titanium gray, gold, black, and something called “platin” (most beautiful to me). All these are much more rare than the silver models.

Contax T2 For Sale

The good news is that the T2 is almost always available on eBay. While the T3 will probably always be thought of as the ultimate Contax point and shoot, it also cost more and is harder to find, which probably adds to its appeal and iconic status.

The great thing is that the T2 is cheaper and to me, no less iconic. However, if buying one proceed with caution as these cameras are aging and no one is repairing them as far as I know. That doesn’t mean a good repair shop wouldn’t attempt to fix it, but the parts are no longer available so most shops would probably not try to repair it.

On the other hand, while I’ve been critical on Contax electronics in the past, the T2 is probably one of their more reliable and durable models. Just be sure you buy from a place where you can return it if a problem arises. For a safe purchase try here Contax T2 Silver 35mm Camera.

The Nikon D850: The Hottest New Camera

Photo Of The Day: “The Sea”

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Baby Z playing in the water off the beach in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey. 2012. Contax 645, 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar, Kodak Portra 400.

In my Contax 645 review I stated that I would be uploading pics from the camera if I found them, so here’s one from 2012 when I still had the camera.

As with most American families, we typically start our summers on Memorial Day Weekend, which is considered the unofficial start of the summer season here.

For a quick getaway, we travel a few hours to the Jersey Shore. The beaches are generally clean and the towns are usually family friendly.

While I wouldn’t consider it very exciting for singles looking for a hookup, the Jersey Shore makes a quiet and relaxing getaway. The kids enjoy the beach, the pool, and the boardwalk. I do too, if I were to be honest. I realize these will be my kids’ memory of summers past when they are grown, so I always bring some kind of camera with me, even if my iPhone will do most of the time.

I remember taking this shot. The Sun was shining down brightly and while I normally aim for a fast aperture for shallow depth of field in portraits, I think I stopped down the 80mm f/2 Planar to maybe f/2.8 or f/3.5 and still got the top shutter speed of 1/4000 on the Contax 645 in AV mode.

Still, the lens I think provided a distinctive look and good exposure. It was a great camera/lens combo and I do miss it!

This also marked the last time I took such a big bulky camera to the beach and the last time took such a camera so close to the water.

This year I took an Olympus OM-D EM5 with me. Did it give me technically better, sharper, less grainy pictures? Yes, yes indeed. Did it give me images with that 80mm f/2 Zeiss and Kodak film look? No, no it didn’t. But what’s “better” really comes down to personal preferences.

Have yourselves a great weekend good people, and if you’re going to the beach, be sure to bring that camera along, but take care because the sand and water are camera killers! Anyway, take your best shots because these are the memories your family will return to again and again.

Tuesday Titans: The Contax 645

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The almighty Contax 645 and 80mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens. I took this shot when I had to sell this dream combo. Perhaps one of the greatest camera systems ever made?

Wow, what can I say about this one?

The Contax 645 is a Medium Format autofocus film camera introduced by Kyocera in 1999. It was part of their 645 system, an ambitious foray in the (then) professional portrait and wedding world where medium format was king.

I got the Contax 645 in 2008 and had the pleasure of using it for a few years, but eventually had to sell it. I’d always say that I would only sell this camera if I had to pay the rent. Guess what? I had to pay the rent 🙂

I had actually gotten the camera initially because I had done a couple of weddings, was thinking of going down the weekend weddings path, and was thinking of adding something different and unique to my wedding portraits. Looking back now, it was just another excuse for G.A.S. but man, if you have to have an excuse for another camera, the Contax 645 is IT!!

I apologize for not having more photos of the camera. When I sold it years back, I never thought I’d be writing about it one day on a blog 🙂

This is by no means a complete review of the Contax 645, just my memory and experience with it. I do have photos made with this camera and will be updating this article, once I can rescan and put them together. I couldn’t write enough to do the camera justice.

THE CONTAX 645 BODY

The Contax 645 is a modular system with removable backs, prisms, and lenses. You can even add a nice (but expensive) accessory battery holder/vertical grip (the MP-1).

The body when fitted with AE prism and film back feels very solid and is as beautiful to look at, as it is to shoot. The viewfinder is beautifully bright and contrasty. I believe there was actually a waist-level finder for this camera.

From the shooter’s perspective, the top right of the camera contains the shutter speed (32-1/4000 in AV mode) and exposure compensation dials. The mode (B/X/M/TV/AV) dial and AE lock is also located on the top right.

The left side does not have a top “plate” so to speak, but it contains the dial for drive (single or continuous at 1.6 fps). The camera runs on one 2CR5 battery, but can run on four AA batteries with the optional MP-1 grip.

The Contax 645 is still popular with wedding and portrait photographers today due to its ability to use compatible digital backs and if you’ve got this setup, this would be the ultimate digital portrait system in my view.

PERFORMANCE

Ergonomically, I had no complaints. It’s a Contax and all the controls are well laid out. It’s one of those cameras I could use without a manual and that to me is always a sign of a good camera.

The Contax 645 is an autofocus camera and unlike the Contax AX 35mm camera I wrote about, the AF on the 645 is quite good and definitely usable.

While there were quite a few lenses for the 645 system, I only used the 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar so I speak only to my experience with the camera and this lens. I do not know how it performed with any other Contax lenses.

It was not an EOS or Nikon speed demon, but I did not remember having issues with it, except in very low light conditions. I think you’d be fine with this for those wonderful outdoor wedding portraits.

The 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar is one of the fastest lenses available in the 645 format. I believe only the manual focus Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 was faster.

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The lens, as expected, made for wonderful portraits. The lens was beautiful wide open for portraits with bokeh that seemed much smoother than other Zeiss lenses I have used. Perhaps it was the extra shallow DOF that you can get with medium format, but the bokeh on this lens was not quite as “nervous” as the Zeiss lenses I have used in the 35mm format.


BOTTOM LINE

If you’ve ever read any of my articles on Contax, you will know that while I love Contax cameras, I’ve always blasted their electronics as brittle and unreliable.

I’m happy to report that in the three or four years that I had the Contax 645, I never had that problem. Oh, there was one time when the camera started focusing erratically, but it turned out that it just needed a new battery.

It seemed to me that Kyocera put everything they could into making the Contax 645 the best camera that they could make.

The Contax 645 is a highly desirable camera. With its usable AF system, and an arsenal of superlative Carl Zeiss lenses, it is an incredibly capable image maker. To this day, it is considered one of the premier systems in all of medium format photography. It is a camera that can take film or modern digital backs making it versatile enough for the old school film die-hard or the modern digital artist.

The Contax 645 is without a doubt a Camera Legend and perhaps one of the greatest cameras ever made.

WHERE TO BUY?

If you’re thinking about a Contax 645, I have to burst your bubble a little bit and say that with Kyocera out of the camera business, buying a Contax 645 is a bit of a risky gamble.

The reason for this is that if something goes wrong with the camera, Kyocera’s contact in the USA, Tocad, will no longer repair them. I’m not sure who does.

The good (or somewhat good) news is that there are not many reports of these cameras needing repair, just do a search. However, as these cameras approach twenty years on the market, they are getting older and as with any camera, there’s bound to be many ready for retirement or in need of repair.

I would imagine that since the camera is incredibly popular with pros, there should be someone or some place out there repairing these cameras. But in my research, I haven’t found any. I believe they still repair them in Japan, but I will have to do more research.

When I got the Contax 645 in 2008, I paid $1200 for the whole outfit with 80mm f/2 lens, film back, and AE prism. A complete outfit in the same excellent condition today runs for $3000 or more. I’m glad I sold it when I did and made a little profit from the sale 🙂

A Mamiya 645 AF or AFD system is probably a better alternative if you are looking for a similar medium format system that will still be supported.

Now, if you still have your heart set on the Contax 645 Kit (body, 80mm lens, AE prism, back) is trending at $3000-3500. I have seen the kit on eBay with the 45mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens going for around $2300.

For this camera, with its delicate electronics, I would definitely recommend buying from a place with a good returns policy. For that you may try HERE and HERE.

INSTAX cameras on Sale

GoPro HERO on Sale

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Titans: The Contax AX Film Camera

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The Contax AX. A camera that could “autofocus” manual focus lenses. Totally unique, but it didn’t always work well. Note the tripod attachment on the very bottom is not an original part of the camera.

Today, I present to you good readers a double whammy:

“Tuesday Titans” and “The Best Camera I Never Knew” and the recipient of this honor is the legendary Contax AX 🙂

THE CONTAX AX

The Contax AX is a 35mm single lens reflex film camera introduced by Kyocera in 1996. At the time of its introduction, the AX made camera headlines due to its unique ability to autofocus manual focus lenses.

Although probably more technical than this, in a nutshell, AF was achieved by moving the film plane, the distance from lens to film. The official company description of this was “Automatic Back Focusing.” This was a remarkable achievement and still something unmatched in the camera world today.

THE CONTAX AX BODY

The Contax AX is a big, bulky, OX of a camera! The extra bulk was needed to accommodate the mechanism that would drive the film plane to focus.

The camera feels well built, sturdy, and again, bulky. Like most Kyocera made Contax SLR cameras, it gives the feel and impression of quality.

Ergonomically, the AX is pure Contax. That is, controls are well placed with knobs and dials, things I really like on a camera.

On the left top plate you have a mode shifter for AV/TV/P/M/X/B and the shutter speed dial which runs from 4s to 1/4000. Also on the left is where you can change ISO values as well as play around with the cameras Custom Functions. I can’t remember these off hand, but I think the only one I used was the function to leave the film leader out.

On the top right plate of the camera you have the on/off switch, the film counter lcd, the exposure compensation dial, the focus switch which includes macro, manual focus, continuous, single af. Also on the right is a dial for drive, i.e., single shot, continuous, even double exposure.

Again, all these are on switches, knobs and dials that are well labeled which I really love on a camera.

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

I tried two of these. The problem? Well, the first one I got couldn’t autofocus to save my life! It would just rack back and forth. Then it would get close, but seemingly give up. I sent that one back. I eventually got another one and it did autofocus…when it felt like it 🙂

Actually, I’m being unfair. Maybe not. Anyway, it did autofocus, and when it did, I got some nice shots. However, the AF was very fidgety. On certain targets, it would be great, but in general, the AF was inconsistent. It would rack back and forth, sometimes never getting the focus, even on easy targets. Sometimes it would be so out of focus and give up. Pre-focusing the lens seemed to help, but again, it wasn’t consistent.

The autofocus was also somewhat slow, but that’s to be expected and I’m not blaming the camera for that. You have to remember this was a camera that was attempting to autofocus manual focus lenses.

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“Olympians” 2011. Contax AX, 50mm f/1.4 Zeiss Planar lens, Kodak Tri-X 400 developed in HC-110. When the AX managed to focus, it focused well, but it was inconsistent. Shooting in daylight seemed to help.

And speaking of manual focus, you can do that with the AX and if you use the camera that way, it’s a pleasure to use, but maybe not to carry around due to its bulk.

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“Fix My Hair” 2012. Contax AX, 50mm f/1.4 Zeiss Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 in HC-110. Aside from trying to capture the moment, I was actually testing the autofocus system on the AX. The problem is that, with the AX, I always seemed to have to be “testing” it 🙂


BOTTOM LINE

So why does this “Titan” of a camera get a “Best Camera I Never Knew” badge? Because autofocus was its selling point. It was an admirable attempt by Kyocera, and like I said, if and when it worked, it’s great. But most of the time, for me, it didn’t hit its mark.

Ultimately though, I just could not rely on the AF to get the shots I wanted and decided that the AX was better as a manual focus camera. And if I wanted a manual focus Contax, I much prefer the (also big, but more portable) RX or the smaller ST (my favorite Contax body).

The Contax AX was a titanic attempt by Kyocera to bring autofocus to their fine line of manual focus Carl Zeiss lenses by doing something no one else had ever done before. It was made at a time when AF had already become the standard for 35mm SLR cameras.

However, company was not ready to join the AF race and wanted to keep their loyal customers happy. They eventually came out with a true autofocus SLR cameras, in 2001 with the introduction of the Contax N1 and the NX in 2002. Unfortunately, the company folded in 2005.

Kyocera and their Contax/Yashica line were something unique in the camera world. They were innovative and sought to bring the philosophy of high quality cameras and lenses to the masses and market themselves as an alternative to a “luxury” camera market that was ruled by the German giant Leica.

Kyocera and their Contax brand were the Lexus/Acura/Infiniti of the camera world. Unfortunately, many of their cameras, such as the AX, while beautiful, did not deliver the expected performance nor were they as reliable as a Lexus or Acura, or in this case, Leica.

They do, however, hold a special place in my heart and in the hearts of millions of camera fanatics around the world. The Contax brand still has a huge and loyal following. The AX may not have lived up to my expectations, but as I said it was an admirable attempt by a Camera Legend. In some ways, it was ahead of its time with technology that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. If only it worked better than it looks 🙂

WHERE TO BUY?

Due to its unique technology, the Contax AX is still quite popular among camera collectors.  I think most people will seek one out based on curiosity, as I did, only to find its headlining autofocus abilities clunky in real world use.

If seeking one of these, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, prices have been trending steady at $200-300 dollars. Mid to low two hundreds are a good price on the AX. I got my first malfunctioning one about five or six years ago at around $300. As mentioned, I sent it back for a refund. I got my second one, which was sold as a parts camera because the battery chamber lock was broken, for $80. I replaced the battery chamber lock with a lock from a tripod and was more than happy with my $80 AX 🙂

If seeking one make sure your seller has a good return policy because I’ve said many times that the electronics in Contax cameras DO NOT age well. For a safe purchase try HERE and HERE.

The Best Camera I Never Knew Part III: The Contax Tix APS Film Camera

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The Contax TiX from 1997. Perhaps the most beautiful Contax point and shoot, but doomed by being born an APS film camera.

I have to admit I’m a big fan of Contax point and shoot film cameras from the 90s. There was just something special about the whole series.

While I stand by what I wrote in earlier articles about the fragility of Contax cameras and their brittle electronics, I loved the concept, the feel, and execution despite the feeling that I could never really rely on them completely.

THE CONTAX Tix

The Contax Tix (pronounced T…i…x as opposed to Tix, I think!) is a high quality point and shoot camera introduced by Kyocera in 1997.

The camera featured a Carl Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Sonnar T* lens and used the infamous and now defunct APS (Advanced Photo System) film system. The camera was the smallest of the Contax film point and shoots.

The camera has autofocus, a shutter speed range of 15 seconds to 1/1000, and came with a data back for date imprint. It was powered by one 3V CR-2 battery.

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

The last two cameras I profiled (Rolleimatic and Rollei A110) didn’t jive with me because they didn’t work. That was NOT the case with the Contax Tix.

A little history…I got my first Contax point and shoot, the original Contax T, in 1997. That was a superb little manual focus rangefinder and I got some wonderful shots from that thing. Basically, after the Contax T, I was hooked on Contax for a while!

I got the Contax Tix some time in the mid 2000’s, mainly as a curiosity and to add to my collection. I did not expect to use it often because even at the time of the introduction of the APS film system in 1996, I was never really interested in that format. Even back then, I wondered why would anyone bother with this over 35mm?

The 35mm format already had its limitations vs medium and larger formats and I felt like APS was a step backwards.

The negatives were smaller and despite the stuff you were able to do with it, ie, the three image formats, 16:9, 3:2, and 3:1 aspect ratios, as well as the quasi-panoramic mode, I wasn’t into it. I just thought they were gimmicks, but even if they were useful to some, I would take the larger negative of the (already relatively small) 35mm standard over APS any day.

So back to the Contax Tix. Yes, the camera worked and worked well. I used it for two or three rolls of snapshots expecting good quality, but most of the shots from this camera looked excellent!

I’m sorry I have no pics to show you now because as mentioned in the last couple of postings, I am without my main working computer and using a 10′ Chromebook. I would still need to scan these prints.

My assessment of the 28mm f/2.8 Zeiss Sonnar on the Tix is this…The lens is excellent, as expected. It is very sharp. Not as bitingly sharp as the lens on the Contax T3, but still sharper than most point and shoots. But my favorite part is that the lens seemed to have more of a classic look, a soft/sharp kind of thing like the 38mm f/2.8 Sonnar on the original T or T2. So, in my opinion, the lens on the Tix was in between that of the T3 and T/T2. That’s almost perfection right there!

So the camera itself was never a problem. The fact that it used APS film was what didn’t jive with me and why I got rid of it.

If looking for one of these, prices have been trending steady for years at a low of $70 to around $150 with an average of around $90. The camera came in silver or black which is a bit more rare.

If I were to seek one out today, I don’t think it would take me too long to find one. And there are apparently places that will still develop APS film if you send the film out to them. But I’m already dealing with enough dead or outdated systems like Polaroids, 127mm, 110mm, etc that I wouldn’t bother with APS film right now.

BOTTOM LINE

The Contax Tix is a beautiful, jewel-like camera. I feel that this camera could’ve been THE best of all the Contax point and shoots, but unfortunately it was and will forever be hindered by the format it was born with, the APS film system, which is probably one of the biggest flops in film history.

Now before any APS film fans get mad at me, I want to say the concept, and indeed the quality of APS film was not bad. If I recall correctly, there were even some APS films that equaled or exceeded its 35mm equivalents in magazine tests.

In many ways APS was “pre-digital” film. It wasn’t designed for ultimate quality, but instead was made for easier development (with machines specifically designed to take APS film, of which one can guess the companies also hoped to make money selling) and promised smaller, lighter cameras. It foresaw almost all that we see in digital point and shoots today!

But APS wasn’t friendly for the home developer. I’m sure someone must have done it, but I haven’t met anyone who actually home developed APS film. You actually had to bring that film into the store as each film cartridge was locked and coded. The main problem for APS film was timing. It was introduced in 1996 right around the time the first wave of digital cameras were coming in.

In only a few short years it was killed by digital, but somehow managed to hang on till 2011 when Fuji and Kodak, the last two APS film manufacturers ceased production of this film forever.

Again, in many ways, APS had some key concepts that made its way into digital such as switchable aspect ratio, smaller cameras and lenses, and of course APS lives on in our memories by the APS-C sensors which is approximately the same size as APS film. This is the lasting legacy of the APS film system I guess.

The Contax Tix was one of those cameras that I loved as a camera. It had a wonderful lens and beautifully small proportions. The Tix is probably at the apex of APS point and shoot cameras. It is no doubt a camera that added to the Camera Legend of Contax/Yashica.

It is a camera which was only held back by the APS format that it was created for and a camera of which I was never able to realize its full potential. The Contax Tix is a superb camera that unfortunately became one of…the best cameras I never knew 🙂

Note: Still waiting for my Mac in repair, but the show must go on! While I have created a workflow with this Chromebook, I have noticed it is becoming painfully slow the more I use it. Thanks to all who continue to visit, I appreciate it, and I continue to write about cameras for you my friends.